By Emily Senger - Monday, January 28, 2013 - 0 Comments
‘Hidden famine’ may have claimed up to 10,000 lives
According to a report in the Sunday Times, a father in North Korea has been executed after eating one of his children amid a “hidden famine” in the country that has already claimed the lives of 10,000 people.
The report cites an incident where a grandfather dug up his grandchild’s corpse to eat it, and another incident where a father boiled his child and ate the flesh.
It’s unclear whether the report in the Sunday Times is true, as it is based on other reports collected by a service called Asia Press, a Japanese-based citizen journalist organization.
The report does seem crazy, but the Sunday Times stands by the story and writes that the reports have been deemed “credible.”
The report comes as the UN has voted to place even tighter sanctions on North Korea after a the country launched a rocket in December – a move that was widely condemned by the international community as seen as an illegal test of long-range missiles.
Never one to back down from a challenge, North Korea said the December launch was just part of its space program. It then responded to last week’s UN resolution by saying that it would continue to test both long-range rockets and nuclear weapons, with the target being the U.S.
While the ever-secretive North Korea doesn’t allow foreign media to confirm the reports, a famine is likely after a tropical cyclone that hit the country over the summer.
By Emily Senger - Thursday, January 24, 2013 at 8:51 AM - 0 Comments
Message on state-run television comes after UN motion to censure and add new sanctions
North Korea has upped the stakes with the U.S., with the North Korean National Defence Commission announcing on state television that it would not only continue rocket launches, but it would also continue nuclear testing, which would be aimed the U.S.
In a statement on state television North Korea’s National Defence Commission said: “We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States.”
By The Associated Press - Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 4:13 AM - 0 Comments
PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea is loosening some restrictions on foreign cellphones by…
PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea is loosening some restrictions on foreign cellphones by allowing visitors to bring their own phones into the country. However, security regulations still prohibit mobile phone calls between foreigners and locals.
For years, North Korea required visitors to relinquish foreign cellphones at the border until their departure, leaving many tourists without an easy way to communicate with the outside world.
The ritual of handing over phones was part of an exhaustive security check that most visitors face at immigration in North Korea. Many foreigners — including Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, who travelled to North Korea earlier this month — choose to leave their phones behind in Beijing before flying to Pyongyang.
By The Associated Press - Monday, January 7, 2013 at 5:20 AM - 0 Comments
PYONGYANG, North Korea – The Google chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea’s…
PYONGYANG, North Korea – The Google chairman wants a first-hand look at North Korea’s economy and social media in his private visit Monday to the communist nation, his delegation said, despite misgivings in Washington over the timing of the trip.
Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of one of the world’s biggest Internet companies, is the highest-profile U.S. executive to visit North Korea — a country with notoriously restrictive online policies — since young leader Kim Jong Un took power a year ago. His visit has drawn criticism from the U.S. State Department because it comes only weeks after a controversial North Korean rocket launch; it has also prompted speculation about what the businessman hopes to accomplish.
Schmidt arrived on a commercial Air China flight with former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has travelled more than a half-dozen times to North Korea over the past 20 years.
By Emily Senger - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 10:26 AM - 0 Comments
17-year-old Kim Han-sol offers a rare look into North Korean dictatorship
The grandson of deceased North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il supports a unified Korea, the teen said in an interview with former United Nations under-secretary general Elisabeth Rehn, which aired on a Finnish television station.
Kim Han-sol, a 17-year-old who is attending an international university in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, tells Rehn, in nearly unaccented English, that he was born in North Korea, but moved to Macau, China, when he was very young and that he never met his grandfather, even though he wanted to.
“That was actually one thing that I wanted to do before he passed away. I was really curious myself,” Han-sol says.
Han-sol says he hasn’t met his uncle, current North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, either. Han-sol is the son of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-il’s eldest son, who fell out of favour with his father, leading the former dictator to appoint his youngest son as the next leader instead.
Han-sol says both his mother and his father taught him to think for himself and to be thankful for what he has in life. His upbringing has allowed him to make South Korean friends, he says.
“We shared stories from back home and realized how similar we are,” he says. “Same language, same culture. It’s just political issues that divide the nation in half and now, today, I have really close friends and we travel together, and it’s such a wonderful feeling.”
Han-sol says he dreams of going back to North Korea after school to make a difference and to make life easier for people there.
“I also dream of unification because it’s really sad that I can’t go to the other side and see my friends over there,” he says. “It’s a really sad story because my friends would say, like, it would be really great to just take a bus or something, just to South Korea or North Korea, and meet each other at some point, but that’s one of the dreams.”
The full interview has been posted to Youtube.
(English interview begins at 1:35)
Han-sol’s dreams however, seem a long way off. On Friday, North Korea threatened to attack South Korea after anti-Pyongyang activists announced plans to launch leaflets into North Korea using balloons.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 4:10 PM - 0 Comments
From the headlines of Aug. 30-Sept. 6, 2012
North Korea is reportedly making significant reforms to collective agriculture. Foreigners cannot visit rural areas in the cloistered republic, but defectors say co-operative farms are being subdivided into smaller units, and farmers are being allowed to keep more of their crops for consumption or sale. Agriculture is always a bellwether in centrally planned economies, and the changes might signal a reformist appetite in the circle of Western-educated Kim Jong Un. But they’re good news in themselves, either way.
New rules requiring TV commercials to be no louder than the surrounding programming came into effect Sept. 1, one year after being promulgated by the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission. Former chairman Konrad von Finckenstein’s 2011 call for comments was met by a deluge of support from viewers tired of “ear-splitting” ads. The new rules require broadcasters to abide by international ad-loudness standards, which are also being adopted by the U.S. this year.
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at 9:52 AM - 0 Comments
Detente with Japan could be a sign of increased openness on the part of North Korea
In another sign that North Korea may be ending its decades-long isolation, leader Kim Jong-un and his officials are set to meet Japanese officials in Beijing this Wednesday, the Vancouver Sun reports.
The meeting is the first attempt in years to address animosities between the two countries that go back to Japan’s colonial occupation of Korean before World War II, and the kidnapping by North Korea of 17 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, who were then forced to tutor North Korean spies.
Some speculate North Korea may be looking to follow China’s example and develop special, free-market economic zones while maintaining a totalitarian government.
By Lyndsie Bourgon - Friday, August 10, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
A surprising hit show features singing, dancing and a candid glimpse of the lives of North Korean defectors
Every Sunday night, South Koreans tune in to a surprising hit TV show featuring a dozen women, all defectors from the North. With its mix of humour and tears, the hybrid talk and talent show, called Now On My Way to Meet You, is hitting all the right notes, blending music and dance performances and gossip over the ideal mate along with serious discussions about life in the autocratic North.
The set features a lit-up runway for performances, mostly singing and dancing. One guest reprised a song-and-dance routine she once performed for Kim Jong Il, the late North Korean leader. Another sang the song she used to teach her kindergarten class—no different, really, it turned out, from children’s songs popular in the South.
Panellists on the show have revealed some surprising cultural tidbits: plastic surgery is apparently popular in the North, particularly procedures that makes women’s eyes appear rounder and which are often carried out by unlicensed people.
By Alan Parker - Monday, August 6, 2012 at 10:42 PM - 0 Comments
Winners, losers and surprises among the nation’s ruling elite—for now.
1. KIM JONG-UN
Supreme Commander, Korean People’s Army (KPA)
Chairman, National Defence Commission
Marshal, Korean People’s Army (KPA)
First Secretary, Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK)
Chairman, WPK’s Central Military Commission
Young Kim Jong-un (probably 28) has largely been seen as a figurehead manipulated by forces behind the throne since he replaced his father as nominal dictator of North Korea last December. That may be true, but the purging of Vice-marshal Ri Yong-ho removed at least one hand on the levers of power. Kim Jong-un probably is much more in tune with the views and aspirations of his wily uncle, Jang Song-taek, and may be exercising far more control than he is given credit for. He has remained calm, cool and collected throughout the recent upheaval and is consistent in his PR campaign to present himself as a caring, approachable leader doing his best to improve the lot of his people. The longer he remains at the top of the power pyramid, the greater will be his control. But — as with everything else in North Korea — his immediate future is tied, to a large degree, to the current rice crop which is threatened by widespread flooding. The autumn rice harvest is a long way away.
2. RI SOL-JU
First Lady of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
AKA The Kate Middleton of North Korea
The grand presentation of Kim Jong-un’s wife in July was part of the elaborate public relations campaign to make the young dictator seem warm and caring as well as responsible and committed. Ri Sol-ju has done her job well, appearing poised, relaxed and confident in her public appearances while showing the required demure deference to her husband. Ri has absolutely no position or authority of her own but, as a satellite of her husband, will grow in stature and influence as his authority grows and expands. If the young couple hangs around for any length of time, she could become very powerful in her own right. And she is, possibly, already the mother of the next generation of the Kim dynasty.
3. JANG SONG-TAEK
Uncle (by marriage) of Kim Jong-un
Vice-chairman, National Defence Commission
Director, Administration Department of WPK Central Committee
Four-star general, KPA
Think of Jang Song-taek as Simba’s devious uncle Scar from the Lion King. Jang rose to prominence as the husband of former dictator Kim Jong-il’s younger sister but he secured real power in the former regime through brilliant Machiavellian manoeuvring and by masterminding many of the organized crime schemes — from high-grade counterfeiting to large-scale drug smuggling — that brought in much-needed foreign currency to support the lavish lifestyle of Kim Jong-il and his inner circle.
Jang amassed a fortune for himself at the same time and also acquired a host of enemies. Because of his greed, ambition and arrogance, Kim Jong-il purged Jang in 2006, reportedly sending him to re-education camps for lessons in humility. Jang was rehabilitated in 2008 and, by the time of Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011, had wormed his way back to be the Dear Leader’s closest adviser. As such, Jang and and his wife were designated as principal protectors of newbie dictator Kim Jong-un along with army chief Ri Yong-ho. That set up an inevitable power struggle between Jang and Ri which the more devious Ri won rather quickly against the ostensibly more powerful Ri.
Jang controls most aspects of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the government, the bureaucracy and — through his surrogates in uniform — the military now. As director of the WPK Central Committee’s administration department, Jang has direct control of the entire state security (think SS and Gestapo combined) organization of North Korea. Jang is principal engineer of North Korea’s current push for economic reform, but his motives are far more likely to be self-serving than altruistic. Economic reform that actually works and improves the lives of average North Koreans is probably the only way the current regime will survive and thrive in the long run.
VERDICT: THE BIGGEST WINNER
4. CHOE RYONG-HAE
Acolyte of Jang Song-taek
Member, National Defence Commission
Director, KPA Political Department
Choe Ryong-hae was a lifelong political administrator who rose through the ranks of various North Korean youth and sports organizations until he caught the eye of Jang Song-taek. Choe has been purged twice in his long political career — once on his own merits and the second time because he was associated with Jang — but has returned to power both times.
Choe is tied completely to Jang, so it was apparent Jang was in the ascendancy when he was able to interfere in military matters and have Choe appointed a vice-marshal of the KPA in April. In a series of musical-chair moves, Choe became the powerful director of the KPA political department — the military’s top ideologue, watchdog and disciplinarian, in other words.
Despite his lack of military background, Choe was quickly able to become an effective counterbalance and obstacle to top soldier Ri Yong-ho. Ri must have known his enemies were closing in when Choe was appointed to such a critical position but probably thought he had more time and allies than he did. The unconfirmed reports of a shootout surrounding Ri’s dismissal as army chief also say that Choe led the force that came to arrest Ri.
5. HYON YONG-CHOL
Chief of KPA general staff
Vice-chairman, WPK Central Military Commission
Hyon Yong-chol was little-known before being appointed KPA vice-marshal and successor to Ri Yong-ho as army chief of general staff. Prior to his promotion to vice-marshal and surprise elevation to the top military post in July, Hyon had been commanding officer of Army Corps VIII north of the capital Pyongyang since 2006 — first as a three-star general and, since September 2010, as a four-star general. Kim Jong-un and his uncle Jang Song-taek obviously determined that Hyon’s loyalty to the Kim dynasty was stronger than his loyalty to the Korean People’s Army.
In the current official North Korean hierarchy, Hyon is in fifth spot, one rung below Vice-Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, the KPA’s political commissar. However, the second and third spots in the official hierarchy are more or less figurehead positions and power-behind-the-throne Jang Song-taek is down in seventh spot — so the official order of precedence does not tell the whole story.
6. CHOE YONG-RIM
Premier of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
Member, presidium of WPK politburo
Choe Yong-rim, as head of government, occupies the third spot in North Korea’s hierarchy list but only a year ago would have been considered a figurehead with little or no real decision-making power. However, since dictator Kim Jong-il’s death, Jang Song-taek has worked to expand the influence and power of the civilian bureaucracy. Choe has been Jang’s right-hand deputy in that regard and in recent months was often the front man in official confrontations between the military and civilian government.
Choe is part of a group of technocrats who are being entrusted with implementing the economic reforms the top leaders hope will save their hides. If they succeed to any degree, Choe’s power increases. If they fail, the entire regime is closer to collapse. But Choe will have been sacrificed as designated fallguy long before the bitter end.
7. RI YONG-HO
Purged military strongman
Former chief of KPA general staff
Former member, presidium of WPK politburo
Former vice-chairman, WPK Central Military Commission
When Kim Jong-il died in December and his relatively young and inexperienced son assumed the mantle of official leadership, army chief of staff Ri Yong-ho suddenly became the most powerful man in North Korea. Even before the elder Kim’s death, young Kim Jong-un showed deference to the bluff and confident KPA chief in their public appearances together.
The younger Kim’s survival was seen as being entirely dependent on the support and goodwill of the Korean People’s Army in the person of its operational commander, Vice-marshal Ri. A hardliner and confrontational hawk, Ri was determined to maintain and expand the Songun — military-first — policy that gave the PKA control over most aspects of North Korea’s society and economy. The humiliating failure of the KPA rocket launch in April severely damaged Ri’s position, but the constant undermining of civilian rival Jang Song-taek also prepared the ground for Ri’s downfall in July.
But the deciding factor in Ri’s collapse may have been his alienation of an older generation of top generals in the KPA. Although 69 himself, Ri was part of a younger generation of KPA officers than the old-timers who, although in their 70s and 80s, still held considerable power on the executive military commissions that oversee KPA planning, priorities and personnel changes. Ri had been ignoring their input in recent months in favour of input from the younger, active generals with whom he dealt in the KPA operational command structure. In the final showdown with Kim Jong-un and his civilian inner circle, the old guard either acquiesced to Ri’s removal or just looked the other way.
They certainly weren’t his strong allies and they certainly didn’t cover his back. Now Ri — the most powerful man in North Korea only a few months ago —is stripped of all offices and powers and may even be dead. He will, in any case, no longer play any role in what happens in North Korea. According to South Korea’s intelligence service, between 20 and 30 senior KPA officers loyal to Ri were also purged in July and hundreds more were reassigned.
VERDICT: THE BIGGEST LOSER
8. U TONG-CHUK
Purged secret policeman
Former member, National Defence Commission
Former director, state security
Former three-star general, KPA
U Tong-chuk was another hardliner and an ally of Ri Yong-ho. But as director of state security he may have thrown his weight around too much, may have been too greedy, may have executed one too many rivals or may simply have been unwilling to bend to pressure from the civilians and army old-timers aligning against Ri. Whatever the root cause, U was forced out in March and Ri Yong-ho was unable to save one of his strongest supporters.
In April, a more amenable general, Kim Won-hong, was installed as minister of state security reporting directly to Jang Song-taek. Since March, U has not been seen and may be dead.
9. KIM YONG-CHUN
Vice-chairman, National Defence Commission
Director, WPK civil defence department
A longtime crony and drinking companion of the late dictator Kim Jong-il, Vice-marshal Kim Yong-chun was Minister of the People’s Armed Forces at the time of his pal’s death and, with Ri Yong-ho, one of the two most powerful military men in North Korea. Kim Yong-chun was no shrinking violet and once famously threatened to shoot a civilian arguing with him during a high-level meeting attended by Kim Jong-il.
But, as a member of the old guard, Kim Yong-chun was sidelined by the younger Ri after Kim jong-il’s death. In April, Kim Yong-chun was demoted from armed forces minister to director of the Korean Workers’ Party civil defence department. He was replaced as armed forces minister by supposed Ri ally Kim Jong-gak. So, despite his long-standing military credentials, Kim Yong-chun was ripe for the picking when Jang Song-taek was lining up support for the ouster of Ri. The old vice-marshal may also have just decided to step back and let younger lions fight it out.
The fact that two of his daughters are married to government technocrats in the Jang camp could also have contributed to his non-combatant status. In any case, Kim Yong-chun was onside with the post-Ri regime immediately and was happily smiling for the camera in Kim Jong-un’s entourage within days of Ri Yong-ho’s removal.
10. KIM JONG-GAK
Member, National Defence Commission
Minister of People’s Armed Forces
Vice-marshal Kim Jong-gak is, along with Jang Song-taek, one of the two most devious, duplicitous and dangerous men in North Korea. It is truly impossible to know exactly where Kim Jong-gak stands — or when he will jump in a completely different direction.
In the later years of the Kim Jong-il regime, Kim Jong-gak was first vice-director of the KPA political department (at a time when there was no director, thus making Kim Jong-gak top dog in the military’s political hierarchy). As such, Kim Jong-gak worked closely with KPA chief Ri Yong-ho in a formidable one-two combination. Kim Jong-gak’s promotion to vice-marshal in February and appointment as Minister of the People’s Armed Forces in April seemed, on the surface, to solidify that formidable front of military hardliners.
But appearances were deceiving. For whatever reason, the dynamic between Ri and the newly appointed armed forces minister changed. When the smoke cleared in July, Kim Jong-gak was standing on the winning side, professing loyalty to Kim Jong-un and joining the Supreme Leader’s entourage for photo shoots (although not smiling). It’s impossible to know whether Kim Jong-gak has actually switched sides or is simply biding his time until the current regime’s economic reforms flounder and the time arises for a new military strongman to step forward.
Also in question is whether any other generals in the KPA would now trust Kim Jong-gak if he did suddenly rebrand himself as a hardliner and champion of Songun. Whatever the case, he is a man to watch — as one watches a poisonous snake.
VERDICT: THE BIGGEST SURPRISE
All photos, Korean Central News Agency.
By Alan Parker - Friday, August 3, 2012 at 10:19 PM - 0 Comments
In a complex series of moves, power has shifted from the military, to a civilian elite
There’s been a military takeover in North Korea. Not a takeover BY the military but a takeover OF the Korean People’s Army (KPA) by a civilian elite clustered around precariously perched boy dictator Kim Jong-un.
Kim Jong-un has been nominal leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) since his father’s death a week before Christmas 2011. Even before Kim Jong-il’s death on Dec. 17, the inner circle at the top of the North Korean pyramid was jockeying for ultimate power.
In the first few months of the new regime, a group of military hardliners led by Vice-Marshal Ri Yong-ho — chief of the KPA general staff and an anointed guardian of the newest dictator Kim — held the upper hand.
The other principal faction — civilian bureaucrats and politicians led by Kim Jong-un’s wily uncle, Jang Song-taek — initially made a public show of deference to the military’s dominance, but worked behind the scenes to break the soldiers’ grip on the levers of power.
The culmination of that struggle came on Sunday, July 15, when Vice-Marshal Ri was stripped of all military and political titles in a public purging at a meeting of the full WPK politburo, followed by the elevation of a little-known general, Hyong Yong-chol, to the rank of vice-marshal the next day.
Two days later — on Wednesday, July 18 — the military takeover was complete with the announcements that boy dictator Kim Jong-un now held the titles Supreme Leader of the DPRK and Marshal of the Korean People’s Army. In the process of public celebrations that followed, newly minted Vice-Marshal Hyong was revealed as the new chief of the KPA general staff.
And two days after that, unconfirmed reports began emerging in South Korea that Ri had been — perhaps — wounded or even killed in a shootout that left dozens dead when a military unit loyal to Jang Song-taek (Kim Jong-un’s wily uncle, remember?) arrived at Ri’s headquarters to arrest him.
Other reports — just as unconfirmed — cast doubt on the shootout scenario.
And still other unconfirmed reports said Ri had—perhaps—initiated the chain of cataclysmic events by trying to orchestrate a pre-emptive strike when he ordered unauthorized large-scale military manoeuvres close to the capital of Pyongyang.
In the end, Ri and his hardline KPA supporters were defanged, a new military leadership loyal to the clique around Kim Jung-un and his wily uncle Jang Song-taek was installed, and control of the levers of powers in North Korea was transferred to civilians and politicians. For the time being.
But the events of July were only the final act of a tense process that actually had its most pivotal points months earlier, in March, April and May.
It’s crucial to know two things:
1. There are no Good Guys and Bad Guys in the North Korean power struggle. They’re all Bad Guys, to one degree or another—second- and third-generation Stalinist thugs, gangsters and killers—who are fighting among themselves for the spoils of power and economic control while millions of their fellow North Koreans teeter on the brink of famine and hundreds of thousands of political prisoners are brutalized and die in concentration camps.
2. For most of the past two decades, North Korea has been run on the principle of Songun, a “military first” policy that has dominated every aspect of North Korean life and thought, ensuring that the KPA’s needs—from food to nuclear weapons to a primary role in society—are supplied in full before anyone else gets anything. Songun was the payoff for the military backing now-deceased “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il (father of the current Kim dictator) in the mid-1990s when his ascension to supreme power (after the death of his father, North Korean founding dictator Jim Il-sung) was being stymied by the political elite in Pyongyang. Now, 17 years later, the politicians are striking back and Songun—while still paid lip service—is in the early stages of being dismantled.
As for the crucial events of spring, the first move came in February when the civilian government agreed to a North Korean moratorium on nuclear and missile testing in exchange for 240,000 tonnes of food and medical aid from the U.S.—aid specifically designated for children and pregnant women.
Military hardliners led by Ri flexed their muscle in March by announcing that, despite the aid deal, plans would go ahead for the launch of a rocket carrying a “communications satellite”—widely seen as a veiled nuclear delivery-system test.
In response, the U.S. froze its planned aid shipment, putting North Korea’s food supply under intense strain. What is less well-known is that China — North Korea’s strongest supporter — also froze its food and fuel shipments at the same time, to show its displeasure over the hardliners’ sabre-rattling.
Move ahead to mid-April as the North Korean regime pulled out all stops to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding dictator Kim Il-sung. The military rocket launch was a centrepiece of the propaganda extravaganza, with a raft of KPA and WPK promotions and high-profile meetings packed in around huge parades, armament displays, spectacles and endless professions of undying loyalty to the Kim dynasty and the Korean People’s Army.
The KPA satellite/missile was launched on April 13—and promptly blew up in mid-air (possibly as a result of the same U.S.-generated computer mega-virus that has infected the Iranian nuclear development programme).
When the missile blew up, so too did the dominance of the military hardliners. The civilian politicians—the so-called “economic reformers”—immediately went on the attack.
The humiliation of the missile fiasco left the military hardliners in a position where they could not block a number of promotions engineered by Jang Song-taek (the wily uncle) and his cohorts.
The most important was the appointment of a lifelong politician (and protege of Jang Song-taek) to the rank of vice-marshal and post of director of the political department of the Korean People’s Army — the KPA’s top political commissar, in other words, a power post parallel to and almost equal to that of the chief of general staff, strongman Vice-marshal Ri Yong-ho.
The failure of the missile launch in April opened the door for the civilian government to demand the military tap into its massive underground bunkers of backup food and fuel to replace part of the 240,000 tonnes of food the U.S. would have provided in humanitarian aid if the missile launch had not taken place. The military, off-balance from its rocket failure, blinked, and opened its “war reserves” for the first time since a massive famine in the 1990s.
At the same time, the government began talking about “a new economic management system” now known as 6.28 Policy. Although 6.28 Policy is discussed in terms of economic reform and potential “liberalization” along the lines of China or Vietnam, its central effect is to remove the military’s control over every aspect of the North Korea economy and put that control in the hands of the civilian elite led by Jang Song-taek.
Two other key shuffles had already occurred weeks earlier with relatively little fanfare because they involved apparently reliable military men replacing somewhat suspect military men.
The most important shift was the replacement of old-timer Vice-marshal Kim Yong-chun as Minister of the People’s Armed Forces by Kim Jong-gak, a hardliner and ally of military strongman Ri Yong-ho, in February.
A month later, Gen. U Tong-chuk, the ruthless, hardline head of North Korea’s massive state security apparatus, was purged and replaced by Gen. Kim Won-hong, a less aggressive, more reliable military man. It has been speculated that U’s downfall was tied to enemies he made while participating in purges of the middle ranks of KPA officers during the dynastic transition period in late 2011 and early 2012.
Obviously unknown to Ri (or the rest of us, for that matter), both replacements must have already been in secret discussions with Jang Song-taek and his cohorts in the civilian government because, when the noose tightened around Ri Yong-ho’s neck (figuratively speaking) a few months later, both men stood aside.
The day after Ri’s removal was announced, the appointment of a relatively obscure four-star general to the rarified rank of vice-marshal was announced.
And two days later, on July 18, boy dictator Kim Jong-un was formally declared “Supreme Leader” of the DPRK and elevated to the rank of marshal of the Korean People’s Army. In the same publicity binge, the newly minted vice-marshal, Hyon Yong-chol, was identified as chief of the KPA general staff, officially replacing Ri Yong-ho.
In the weeks since Ri’s removal, the civilian leadership (including those members wearing military uniforms) has consolidated its power base. With almost daily propaganda displays, the key players in this power cadre have been shown clustered around Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and his newly revealed wife at amusement parks, kindergartens, sports facilities and other benign, people-friendly backdrops. One big happy North Korean family is the message.
But hopes that North Korea is in the process of reform and opening itself up to the rest of the world may be overly optimistic.
At the same time that a smiling Kim Jong-un was photographed riding a fun-park thrill ride, hugging children and applauding a stage show featuring Mickey Mouse, the military was tightening the border between North Korea and China (the main escape route of defectors), and a new crackdown was initiated against anyone singing South Korean songs — even if the words were rewritten to reflect a loyalist North Korean perspective.
So power has changed hands, hardliners seem to have been usurped by more flexible pragmatists, rhetoric against the U.S. (but not South Korea) has been notched down, and “economic reform” is in the process of being introduced.
But all that can change in the blink of an eye.
The most important factor is how much food the current rice crop—planted in May in a massive, annual nation-wide effort—produces. A good crop—and renewed American humanitarian aid deliveries—will probably mean the current leadership is able to advance its agenda.
A bad harvest, and resultant widespread (increased) deprivation, will probably mean intensified repression to avert social unrest. And the very real possibility that power will be wrested from the current leadership by another group — probably from the resurgent hardliners in the KPA.
Keep a close eye on Vice-marshal Kim Jong-gak, the armed forces minister and former hardliner who shifted his allegiance to the civilian cadre now in charge.
In a closed world of dangerous, duplicitous men (and a few women), he is among the most dangerous and duplicitous. He could easily change skins again. But, of course, we won’t know that until the palace coup has already taken place.
And by then we could be discussing the relative merits of a new group of North Korean overlords.
By Ken MacQueen - Friday, August 3, 2012 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
To: Canadian Olympic athletes
Veneration of Dear Leader Harper (lack of same)…
To: Canadian Olympic athletes
Veneration of Dear Leader Harper (lack of same)
Emulation of Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPR) as praise-model for Canadian athletics.
It has been noticed at the Highest Levels of government that there has been a distinct lack by Canadian medallists of spontaneous displays of affection and gratitude directed at the Canadian government, which is to say the Harper government, which is to say in Most Dear and Supreme Leader Stephen Harper.
Inasmuch as money flows through said government under the benevolent leadership of The Great Sportsman it is strongly suggested that said athletes ‘get with the program’ during pre- and post-event interviews and in all electronic communication. (#weSweatforGr8Leader)
To assist said athletes the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has collected, through its association with the Canadian Olympic Committee, excellent examples of gratitude as freely expressed at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games by actual North Korean athletes.
Any of these quotations can be ‘Canadianized’ by our triumphant athletes with the simple substitution of Dear Leader Harper at the appropriate point in the praise-model template.
Kim Un Guk upon winning gold in (63kg) weightlifting:
“I had a back injury before, but thanks to Kim Jong-Il (DPR’s late leader) I was able to overcome it and win the record.”
Kim Un Guk on future plans:
“Kim Jong-Un is waiting for the news so I will be pleased to get the news to him. The whole country will be happy, and the father of the country will be very happy too.”
Kim Un Guk on the resurgence of weightlifting in the DPR:
“The secret is the best support of our General and Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. He expects the highest performance from all our athletes.”
Om Yun Chol (56kg) weightlifting on becoming the fifth man in history to lift three times his bodyweight in the clean and jerk:
“I an very happy and give thanks to our Great Leader for giving me the strength to lift this weight.”
Om Yun Chol on his surprise at such an accomplishment:
“How can any man lift 168kg? I believe the Great Kim Jong-Il looked over me.”
Om Yun Chol on his supporters:
“My parents were not here. I am here only with my coach. I believe Kim Jong-Il gave me the record and all my achievements. It is all because of him.”
Rim Jong Sim on how she will celebrate her gold medal in (56kg) weightlifting:
“It is not good to celebrate anything. It is just to please our leader Kim Jong-Un.”
Rim Jong Sim on where she finds her motivation:
“Even when the training was really tough, as an athlete I give joy to the Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un. That was my motivation. As an athlete I needed to know how to please the General. The only thing I want to do right now is run to our Dear General with my gold medal in my hand.”
Sin Ui Gun, DPR women’s team soccer coach, on how his players spend their free time at the Games:
“As you might well know, our players did not find any free time since we arrived here . . . Some of you will have seen our team players enjoying their free time in the hotel. There is a hall with some games machines and table tennis and they love to spend their time there inside.”
As you can see, a few simple words of gratitude can go a long way toward building a successful national sports program and a joyous and responsible athlete. We are watching your response to these suggestions with great interest.
On behalf of the PMO,
Yours in sport,
Eric Arthur Blair.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, July 25, 2012 at 4:12 PM - 0 Comments
Congratulations are in order for North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un—we’re just sad we missed…
Congratulations are in order for North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un—we’re just sad we missed the wedding.
The woman who, in recent weeks, has been seen accompanying Kim to state functions is his new wife. In a ceremony honouring the completion of an amusement park in Pyongyang, the woman was identified as “Comrade Ri Sol-ju, wife of marshal Kim Jong-un”, according to The New York Times.
Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, was much more private about his personal life. His wife was never seen on television. Kim may be following more in the steps of his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, who was often shown with his wife and children.
There are no official record of when the wedding might have taken place.
By Richard Warnica - Friday, April 13, 2012 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
North Korea suffered an embarrassing setback to its missile program Thursday after a major…
North Korea suffered an embarrassing setback to its missile program Thursday after a major rocket launch fizzled out after just a minute in the air. Analysts say the failed test, timed to coincide with new leader Kim Jong Un’s ascension to a top military post, could prove mortifying to the country’s leadership.
From the New York Times:
“It’s hard to imagine a greater humiliation,” a North Korea expert, Marcus Noland, said in his blog at the Web site of the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
“The North Koreans have managed in a single stroke to not only defy the U.N. Security Council, the United States, and even their patron China, but also demonstrate ineptitude,” Mr. Noland said. “Some of the scientists and engineers associated with the launch are likely facing death or the gulag as scapegoats for this embarrassment.”
Experts now worry North Korea could plan a new nuclear test in an effort to counteract the shame of the failed satellite launch.
North Korea announces plans to launch a satellite, in a move deemed ‘highly provocative’ by the U.S.
By Gustavo Vieira - Friday, March 16, 2012 at 9:46 AM - 0 Comments
North Korea will launch a new satellite into space next month, according to an…
North Korea will launch a new satellite into space next month, according to an announcement made in Pyongyang on Friday as part of the celebrations for the centenary of birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country and grandfather of Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s current leader. The launch is scheduled to take place on April 12-16.
Japan, South Korea and the United States quickly condemned the announcement, citing concerns over the the long-range rocket launch required to put the satellite into orbit. The U.S. called the announcement “highly provocative”, while South Korea said the launch would be a clear violation of U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea since its ballistic missile testings in 2006 and 2009.
The announcement comes just a couple of weeks after North Korea struck a deal with the U.S. over its nuclear program, promising to suspend weapons tests in exchange of receiving food aid. North Korea’s satellite launches have been criticized by the U.S. and its allies in the region because they can be used to cover up long-rage ballistic missile tests in the highly secretive nation. The announcement claims Pyongyang intends to launch a satellite for peaceful purposes.
By Richard Warnica - Monday, February 27, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Too bad North Koreans celebrated on the wrong date
Had he not died on a train in Pyongyang last December, Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s late Supreme Leader, would have turned 70 on Feb. 16. That’s the ofﬁcial story, anyway. In reality, Kim, whom the BBC once described as “a vain, paranoid, cognac-guzzling hypochondriac,” was already 70 when he died. According to Soviet records, he was born in 1941 in Siberia; the date and location of his birth were changed to better ﬁt the ofﬁcial story after he was named his father’s successor in 1980. Fake Kim—the one created by the histrionic mythmakers of the North Korean state—was born in a log cabin on Mt. Paektu in 1942. (It wouldn’t do to have the future Dear Leader born on foreign soil, after all.) The weather was unusually warm that day, according to North Korea’s ofﬁcial website, as “if the heaven was blessing [his] birth.” Continue…
By Gustavo Vieira - Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Nearly a quarter-century after work on the Ryugyong Hotel began, the North Korean monstrosity is almost done
North Korea’s iconic Ryugyong Hotel is finally set to open this April, 24 years after construction started. For decades the massive building, which looks like a blend of a pyramid and a rocket ship and is the tallest structure in North Korea, stood unused and became a powerful symbol of the country’s problems. Construction of the 105-story building started in 1987 with the goal of being the world’s tallest tower and a showcase of the communist country’s prosperity. But in the early ‘90s, construction stalled, reportedly because of money shortages following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Eventually, what was supposed to be a hotel of 3,000 rooms with revolving restaurants and other perks turned out to be the biggest eyesore in Pyongyang. Esquire magazine once called it the “worst building in the history of mankind.” Work on the hotel resumed three years ago when the North Korean government announced a partnership with an Egyptian telecom conglomerate to finish the white elephant.
By John Fraser - Friday, January 6, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Pyongyang’s funerary pomp and strategy of terror mirror the darkest days of its communist neighbour
Nightmares are best left unrevisited, but the death on Dec. 17 of the “Dear and Great Leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, deserves a deeper look down a particularly grisly memory lane. The entire Sturm und Drang of the death and succession to the third generation Kim Jong Un, already dubbed “Respected” and “Supreme Commander,” evokes some of the worst propaganda excesses of the Maoist regime in Communist China, especially during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, nearly half a century ago.
The pictures of North Koreans amassed in central squares across the country, sobbing their grief to the nation and the world, are almost identical to the pictures that came out of China in 1976 when the Great Helmsman reluctantly gave up the ghost. Militarized mass mourning is at the heart of these wretched regimes, as if the forced or brainwashed operatic bawling of the masses can—through sheer volume if nothing else—comfort the worried dinosaurs who struggle to maintain the totalitarian status quo.
When people ask what it was like in China during the Hundred Flowers campaign (1955-57), or Great Leap Forward (1958-60), or the Cultural Revolution itself (1966-68), you just have to say: “Tune in to North Korea.” Ditto for forced labour camps, human rights abuses, avoidable starvation, and all sorts of mind-numbing terror campaigns to engender “enthusiasm” in the masses—a cowed and brutalized population ignored by a world that can’t do much about their lot except call their regime “evil.”
By macleans.ca - Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 10:34 AM - 0 Comments
Colossal memorial service and funeral procession for the late Kim Jong-il signifies smooth transition of power to Kim Jong-un
Tens of thousands of military and civilian mourners crowded in Kim Il-sung Square in the North Korean capital of Pyonyang on Thursday, AFP reports. A large-scale public memorial for the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il culminated two weeks of official mourning. The ceremony included tributes to the late leader by ceremonial head of state Kim Yong-nam, who declared Kim Jong-un, son of Kim Jong-il, “the supreme leader of our party and army and people,” had inherited his late father’s spirit, leadership, personality, morality and fortitude. Kim Jong-un was featured prominently in a three-hour funeral procession through the icy streets of Pyonyang, which North Korea’s state news agency claims drew millions of mourners. Observers viewed the ceremony as a signal of a smooth transition of power to Kim Jong-un, who remains a largely unknown quantity.
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 11:23 AM - 0 Comments
Delicate transition underway nuclear-armed North Korea
North Korean mourners lined the streets of Pyongyang on Wednesday, wailing and beating their chests during a carefully choreographed funeral parade for dead dictator Kim Jong Il. Korea watchers eyed the makeup of the parade carefully, seeking clues to the possibly unstable transition underway in the reclusive nuclear power. Kim’s designated successor, his 27-year-old son Kim Jong Un, walked alongside the lead car at times. He was joined by Chang Sung-taek, his uncle, and Ri Yong-ho, the army chief of staff. “If you look at the people beside the hearse, that means very little has changed. My sense is that Chang and Ri, his father’s people, are effectively running the country and grooming the successor,” Michael Breen, Kim Jong Il’s biographer, told the Financial Times. “Substantially speaking, nothing can change for a long time.”
By macleans.ca - Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 12:22 PM - 0 Comments
Military pledges allegiance to deceased dictator’s son
A tight group of influential regime loyalists and military officers will share power with Kim Jong-un, the son and heir to the political dynasty of his deceased father, dictator Kim Jong-il, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The news agency writes that a source with “close ties” to North Korea and China said the younger Kim will share power with a group of high-powered advisors in Pyongyang. It would be the first time since the country was founded in 1948 that North Korea is ruled by more than one person. The anonymous source, who Reuters reported had correctly predicted the country’s first nuclear test in 2006, also said that any military coup is “highly unlikely.” Everyone with an interest in power is relying on the survival of the regime, and the military has pledged allegiance to the younger Kim, believed to be in his late 20s.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, December 19, 2011 at 3:37 PM - 0 Comments
Kim Jong Il’s death may allow Koreans to stir from the nightmare, but it won’t end it
Kim Jong Il’s death this weekend was something Western politicians both desired and feared. The North Korean dictator was an implacable enemy of the West, who pursued and obtained nuclear weapons, and was willing to give or sell the technology and know-how necessary for others to do the same. In 2007, Israel bombed what’s believed to have been a Syrian nuclear reactor that was modeled on North Korean designs.
Under Kim’s leadership, North Korea’s belligerence toward South Korea continued unabated. Only last year, the North torpedoed and sunk a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors on boards. Nuclear weapons aside, there are enough conventional artillery and rockets aimed at the South that Seoul would be flattened within hours of all-out war. Continue…
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, December 19, 2011 at 11:28 AM - 0 Comments
To the West, the North Korean dictator was mostly a collection of stereotypes in a puppet movie
As many jokes and YouTube links made clear last night, Kim Jong Il’s image in the West comes largely from a puppet movie that he probably shouldn’t even have appeared in. The movie was Team America: World Police, a film made in 2004 by South Park (and later, Book of Mormon) creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone as their comment on the War on Terror, back before we completely won that thing. Kim was the villain that the titular Team went up against, plotting to unleash terrorism upon the world with the unwitting help of useful idiots like actor Matt Damon and U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix.
The choice of Kim as the villain, like so many of Parker and Stone’s choices, got them attacked for a failure of nerve on both sides of the political aisle. For liberals, the presence of Kim seemed like an attempt to avoid taking a stand on the Iraq war (though since the war started while the film was in development, it might not have been possible to make the movie about Saddam Hussein). For conservatives, it was sidestepping the issue of Islamist terrorism. But for Parker and Stone, the reason for the choice may have been a simple one: they find stereotypes really funny, and the character of Kim Jong-Il allowed them to dig up every possible stereotype and build scenes around them. The dictator’s big song is called “I’m So Ronery,” and it was that song, and clip, that made the rounds on social media yesterday night. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Monday, December 19, 2011 at 9:31 AM - 0 Comments
Manoeuvre not connected to Kim Jong-Il’s death, say experts
North Korea test-fired a short-range missile on Monday, the same day it announced the death of its leader Kim Jong-Il, according to reports in the South Korean media. A South Korean official, who declined to be named, however, told Yonhap news agency that the launch was likely unrelated to Kim’s death, Reuters reports. North Korea is thought to have launched the missile in the morning, before the announcement of the supreme leader’s passing. The country routinely test-fires missiles. Such launches, however, are sometimes tied to sensitive political developments.
By macleans.ca - Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 10:56 PM - 0 Comments
North Korean leader had been grooming his son to succeed him
Kim Jong-Il, Supreme Leader of North Korea, has died at the age of 69, North Korean State television announced today. The son of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il held various positions in his father’s government, taking over as leader after his his father died in 1994. Running North Korea, Kim Jong-Il presided over a dismal economy, concentrating mostly on military buildups to stimulate the economy. In the West, he was primarily known for his nuclear program, which he continued in defiance of an agreement with the U.S.; North Korea’s status as a possible nuclear power, along with Kim Jong-Il’s reputation unreliability, gave him a reputation as a power-mad and dangerous dictator, and he was the main villain in the comedy Team America from the creators of South Park. He was also known for cultivating a personality cult among his people, reminiscent of the cults of Stalin and Mao. Kim Jong-Il’s health has not been good for some time, and he had already been grooming his third son, Kim Jong-Un, as his successor.
By Patricia Treble - Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
Brown water in the cabins, mattresses on the floor, and karaoke
For tourists who have gone everywhere and done everything, North Korea has launched the next must-do opportunity: a unique cruise down its scenic eastern seaboard. The trip starts from the economically depressed Rason economic zone near the northern Russian-Chinese border and meanders southward for 21 hours before the tourists are dropped off at the scenic Mount Kumyang resort. The inaugural media launch last week featured a choreographed dance, lots of kids waving fake ﬂowers and even some ﬁreworks. The menu featured plenty of local cuisine, especially dried fish, and karaoke was the entertainment, but the rest of the cruise amenities were a tad spartan.
On the first official sailing of the cruise ship—a rusting former ferry—some cabins were furnished with mattresses on the floor, while most below-deck bathrooms lacked water, which ran brown in other cabins. Still, officials of the secretive, impoverished nation hope the cruise will be so successful that next year they can rent a bigger and better ship.